We've all had the experience of buying what we thought was
a perfectly good product, only to have it fail on us. It happens whether you buy a budget
$29.99 watch, or a top of the line $600 set of component speakers. The truth is, no matter
how good or bad the manufacturer is, sometimes, an individual unit can be less than
perfect. Remember Murphy's law, 'If it can go wrong....'.
After it's broken, this is usually when we pay attention to the warranty, and it's also when we find out that the warranty is probably not going to take care of us. All manufacturers of car audio provide a "12 month warranty for parts and labor" against "manufacturer defects in workmanship or material". What this essentially means, is if you own this unit for 12 months, and baby it, and one day, it falls apart on you, the manufacturer will pay the repair man and the parts supplier.
There are hidden costs you have to face that the manufacturer does not cover. First, you may likely have to mail the unit to the factory, or your closest service center as most stores will honor the warranty for the first 30 days, and after that, they don't want to see you. This can easily cost at least $3.00, and normally runs $30.00 and up. Then, if the repairer determines that the unit was damaged through abuse, or misuse, the manufacturer may refuse to pay for the repairs. All this time, you are driving around without part of your stereo system (and if it is the head unit which is damaged, you are driving without your total system).
This is why it is important to consider your warranty when purchasing a product. A warranty is a statement of a manufacturers willingness to stand behind a product. While it is normally a 12/12 P&L, manufacturers of quality components offer warranties from 2 years to life. Though typically still a P&L warranty, it is a bolder statement of how good their items are. Taking a step beyond that, some manufacturers even extend their coverage to shipping and handling, and will sometimes cover things which are normally considered abuse (like blown drivers, or melted amps). Sometimes, however, they will also have special considerations for individual states or provinces, where local laws prohibit exclusions under warranties.
Always read your warranty cards. Do not trust what the sales person or product literature tells you. The sales person normally wants to sell you an extended warranty, which while they are useful, are sometimes not necessary. The product literature itself will also emphasize the warranties strong points. Under the Magnusson-Moss act, the store must provide the manufacturers warranty for review (specifically, they are required to maintain a binder containing the actual warranty cards as furnished by the manufacturer, and make it available for customers to read at their convenience during store hours), and may not misrepresent the manufacturers warranty to include or exclude service. That does not mean they won't do it, just that they aren't supposed to. In addition, get any guarantees that the salesperson makes in writing. If they are unable to show you in writing what they claim (either pointing it out on a warranty card, or writing it on paper), then do not trust them, and you probably should not buy from them.
Do not forget, that the store is not responsible for the item you buy. All they do is sell it to you, and any service they give you on the item (letting you exchange it, or honoring the manufacturers warranty service) is purely a customer service they provide. The exception for that is any installation they provide. In this case, you deal with yet another party in most cases. For car stereo, you either find in-house installation facilities, or are referred to an outside contractor. The greater majority of problems that arise with car audio equipment is caused by installation, and in those cases, it is the duty of the install shop to resolve the issue (normally by replacing and correctly installing the equipment). It is only when the installer determines that the unit is indeed defective that the manufacturer is liable. Also, there are often limitations on damage to your vehicle. In both cases, the manufacturer or shop are liable for damages to your vehicle directly caused by the installation of the equipment or the use of the equipment. For instance, if a manufacturer represents that an adapter will allow you to connect a CD changer to your factory radio, but when you do, it burns out your changer, and or radio, then in that case the the manufacturer is responsible for replacing those damaged items. If, however, an installer, either through incorrect installation procedures, improper tool uses, or misuse of the equipment, causes the damage, then the installer is responsible. Most install shops are bonded and have insurance to cover damages. Both the install shop and manufacturer are often eager to right any damages, so it is important to remain calm and cooperative when and if these event occur.
That is why it is very important to send in your registration card. This provides the manufacturer with a record of your purchase. The manufacturer is ultimately liable for their product, and they will often provide you with very good service in getting your unit repaired. In addition, if there is a product recall, you will find out before anyone else, that you need to return your product. Another advantage is that many manufacturers will offer incentives to their customers, like direct buying or freebies.
Finally, consider extended warranties. Many major chains like Circuit City, Best Buy, Montgomery Ward, or Radio Shack, offer Extended Service Plans for anything you purchase through them. These will normally extend well beyond the manufacturers coverage, in both time and type of coverage. Read the ESP documentation carefully. Sometimes the coverage will not improve on a manufacturers guarantee, and for many things, they are not even needed.
A note on online or mail order purchasing. This is an especially gray area. Many manufacturers, in order to maintain quality control, will establish "territories" which are protected. For instance, the makers of a certain line of amplifiers might restrict their dealers to one every 30 miles. This gives that dealer a monopoly on that product, and it also helps the manufacturer to keep an eye on where they are doing good. Most manufacturers do NOT honor warranties for online sales, or mail order purchases, because this means there are no protected areas. If an online seller maintains that they are an authorized dealer, contact the company to make sure. If they are not authorized sellers, do not buy from them unless it is in your opinion, a worthy risk.
In conclusion, you should carefully consider your warranty when you buy something. It's normally not until after you have a problem that you realize how ineffectual the warranty is.